The SAT remains the premier college entrance exam in the United States. It’s taken by more than one million students each year and is considered one of the most important factors in whether a student is accepted at their college of choice.
In conjunction with the ACT exam, GPA, and extracurricular resume, the SAT can dramatically hurt or help your chances of getting into a good school.
The SAT isn’t something you just wake up and take. It requires ample preparation, studying, and practice. If you want a high score, you’ll want to plan ahead.
Here are several helpful tips:
1. Understand the Format
The SAT is a 3 hour and 50-minute exam. (This includes a 50-minute optional essay.) It consists of five individual sections: reading, writing, math with a calculator, math without a calculator, and the optional essay.
The SAT exam is a paper-based test that’s administered at hundreds of schools and sites around the country (and throughout the year).
According to LA Tutors 123, “Students are allowed to take the test as many times as they want; most universities will only look at the highest score or the super-score (a combination of the highest sections). However, since the scoring format changed in 2016, schools may tweak their policies accordingly. For more accurate information, please contact individual universities to confirm their score acceptance policy.”
Total SAT scores range from 400 to 1600. The total score is the sum of the reading, writing, and math sections.
2. Create a Schedule
When studying for the SAT, you’ll want to create a schedule. This will help you stay on track and keep you consistent with your effort. While many people choose to take their first SAT exam with very little preparation (as a way of setting a “baseline” score and measuring their current levels), you’ll certainly want to study for the second and third time.
At a minimum, we recommend a study schedule of five to six hours per week for at least three to four weeks prior to the exam. Preparing for the SAT is like running a marathon. You want to pace yourself. In doing so, you don’t have to sprint/cram in the hours leading up to the exam.
3. Boost Your Reading Score
For many students, the reading section presents the best opportunity to elevate their scores. It makes up 50 percent of the reading and writing portion of the exam. There aren’t any formulas or crazy comma rules to memorize. You just need to learn how to properly read and dissect a passage.
“You’ll have 65 minutes to read five passages (taken from literature, history, social studies, and the natural sciences) and answer a total of 52 questions,” The Princeton Review explains. “The questions will ask you to do everything from determining the meaning of words in context, deciding why an author included a certain detail, finding the main idea of a whole passage, comparing two passages, or even pinpointing information on a graph.”
You don’t have to read the entire passage to score well. Part of preparing for the reading portion of the exam is learning how to scan the passage and pull out the important concepts. By learning to focus on what matters most, you can avoid getting overwhelmed by time-consuming details.
4. Use the Right Prep Materials
The good news is that there are plenty of study materials you can use for the SAT. This includes everything from full-length online practice exams to books in your local library. You’ll also find apps, online prep courses, private tutors, and more. It’s worth spending time and money on SAT prep, as a good score can literally save you tens of thousands of dollars on college tuition, loans, and interest.
5. Be a Smart Test-Taker
In addition to studying the content, make sure you’re prepared with the right test-taking skills and techniques. Here are a few:
- Be sure to read and review all SAT directions for each section prior to sitting for the exam. This allows you to use the allotted time for taking the exam (not getting familiar with instructions).
- There’s no penalty for wrong answers, so it’s okay to guess! Just make sure they’re educated guesses. Start by eliminating any answers that are obviously wrong. If you can whittle the possibilities down to just two answers, you increase your odds from 25 percent to 50 percent.
- Be neat and organized. Don’t get sloppy filling in answers (and avoid stray marks on your test). Tests are machine-scored, which means you must be precise.
6. Take the SAT Seriously
You’ll never get into a school based solely on an SAT score. You can, however, ruin your chances of getting into the school of your choice with a bad SAT score. Thus, it’s important to take your time, study well, and be strategic in your approach.
Hopefully, this article has given you some valuable tips and resources to do so.